Autumn Prayer

It has been summer-like weather for quite a few days this autumn, until recently, when the chill in the air and the wind scattering the fallen leaves have signaled that the seasons are changing. Summer is giving way to a time when nature sheds many of its blooms, only to return with the longer, warmer days of Spring. This life cycle is a hopeful reminder to us about renewal and new life, as our school community mourns the loss of Anthony Penna ’19 and gratefully welcomes the return to school of Gabrielle ’20, his sister. Never has Archmere felt more united as a community of faith as we did in the hours, days, and weeks after the tragic accident that occurred on the morning of September 29th. Administrators, students, and parents of many other area schools were in contact with us at Archmere and with the Penna Family, offering messages of support and prayers, cards and flowers. We are truly grateful to all who have supported the Penna Family and our students and members of our school community.

We continue to have faith in God and the promise of everlasting life made real by the resurrection of Jesus. We pray in the weeks, months, and years ahead for the wisdom and strength to manage our many challenges that may be a part of our journey.

At a recent meeting that I attended, we prayed the following “Autumn Prayer” by Peter Jarret, C.S.C. I share in the same spirit of community that continues to unify and shape us.

God of all creation, you give us the gift of seasons to mark our journey through time.

The season of autumn, with its changes of colors and falling leaves reminds us that sometimes things must die and fall away for new life to arise.

Such is the message of the cross –

That through death to self we find life in all its richness.

In those moments when we experience setbacks or failures,

Help us to remember that you are with us always,

And that there is no failure or sin your love cannot heal.

Help us to trust in you and in your promise of new life.

 Amen.

Giving Thanks For Our Community

UnknownOne of the five core values we talk about is Community. It is a part of our mission statement, written on the walls of our classrooms, included in our website and in printed literature about Archmere. It is a word that so many institutions use to describe the family-like atmosphere that they believe they create for the people associated with a particular school, church, organization or cause. But at Archmere during the week of November 6, I experienced Community “in action,” and I could not help but share with you how I felt at each event.

On November 3, the Archmere Academy community learned of the passing of Jerry Ambrogi ’76, a much beloved coach and mentor at Archmere for over four decades. An estimated 600 people gathered at Archmere on Tuesday, November 8 for his funeral Mass in the Theatre, followed by a luncheon reception in the Patio. Hundreds more visited at the funeral home the evening before. After a two-year, brave and painful bout with cancer, Jerry is at peace. Over the years, he has been a significant benefactor to Archmere, quietly helping students with words of guidance, financial support, and a sincere mentorship that positively affected the lives of others. In talking with one mother who attended the funeral Mass, she said that Jerry was the only person that was able to talk to her son at a time when he needed support at Archmere, and she will never forget how that mentorship changed her son’s life. In gathering with family and friends, in celebrating the Mass, and in sharing our individual stories of Jerry, I felt the tremendous impact of the intersections of our lives, creating a powerful sense of Community.

A few days later, on Friday, November 11, we held an assembly for the students to observe Veterans Day. As part of that assembly, students from the War Heroes Club, working with Principal John Jordan ’80, researched the World War II career of one of our students, Richard Fox Grace, who left Archmere in his junior year in 1943 to join the Navy. In May 1945, his submarine was torpedoed in what was then the Bay of Siam, and all the crew perished. The submarine was discovered in 2006, and the location in the Bay of Thailand was designated a war grave by the U.S. Navy. Richard, who was a few weeks shy of his 19th birthday, had a nephew, Richard Grace Armstrong ‘69, and his son, Richard Kyle Armstrong ’02 attend Archmere. They were present at the assembly to receive their uncle’s diploma posthumously from Archmere, which was dated June 9, 1944, the day he would have graduated with his class. After his nephews received the diploma, Richard ’69 read a letter he had composed to his uncle. At the conclusion of the letter, the students gave Richard a standing ovation. A color guard from the U.S. Navy joined us, and our own Mastersingers sang the National Anthem and the Navy Hymn. The assembly concluded with the scrolling of the names of those men and women who served or are serving in the armed forces. Needless to say, this special program was an emotional moment for the Archmere community, a moment that acknowledged officially Richard Fox Grace as a graduate of the Class of 1944, a war hero, and a role model who left the Archmere campus 73 years ago to defend our country and our freedoms.

The next evening, I was sitting in the same Theatre where Jerry’s funeral Mass took place and the Veterans Day ceremony occurred to watch the closing performance of “A Christmas Carol,” presented by our drama students. It was a wonderfully unique interpretation of the traditional story, in that all of the characters signed throughout the play. I learned that all of the student actors were taught sign language, which they incorporated beautifully into their acting. It added another dimension to the play, in that Ebenezer Scrooge was taught a “new language” as he transformed throughout the drama. The key words of this new language were: family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion. Gradually, as each ghost of Christmas Past, Present, and Future presented themselves to Scrooge, he was able to sign the words and speak a new language.

What is Community at Archmere? It is those three actions: a funeral for a dearly loved and highly regarded alumnus and coach; a respectful student assembly that remembered one graduate who left Archmere 73 years ago, and in remembering one who served, honored all who served or are serving our country in the armed forces; and a fall play that presented a deeper understanding of “Christmas spirit,” that is a recipe of family, friends, love, gratitude, forgiveness, and compassion.

Often times we do not know why things happen. It is exactly in those times that we give thanks to God for being a Community of faith, one that recalls the words from the Book of Isaiah 55:9, “For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” We learn to accept those things we cannot change by gathering together, by relying on each other, and by knowing that someone is there to mourn with you, to remember with you, and to offer you kindness and compassion.

I told a group of students after the events of last week that if there is one thing they should remember, it is that, “We, the Archmere community, will never forget you. You are forever a part of Archmere, and Archmere is forever a part of you.” As we celebrate Thanksgiving and begin preparations for the Christmas holidays, I extend to you my thanks and gratitude for each of you, who are an important and vital part of the Archmere community. May we be grateful for God’s blessings!

Creating Community…

On Sunday, March 8, 2015, members of the Archmere Academy community came together to celebrate the annual Memorial Mass, remembering all alumni, faculty, and staff who have died. A large group gathered in the Patio to listen to the hopeful words of the Scripture and sing songs that inspire and strengthen our faith. The experience of coming together as a community of faith provided a sense of comfort to those families most particularly dealing with recent loss. As the names of all those who have died were read, we could reflect on how much each of them left their imprint on the Archmere legacy, with which we are entrusted.

At the National Association of Independent Schools Conference at the end of February, NAIS President, John Chubb, moderated a panel of presidents and former presidents from prestigious colleges and universities to discuss the changes predicted for and value of the college experience. One area of concern and focus for higher education leadership is students’ sense of community, suggesting that many of today’s college bound students do not know how to live in community. Many young people struggle with feelings of empathy, managing group compromise, and developing a collaborative style of work and play. College and university leaders attribute students’ under-developed social skills important to fostering community as a result of excessive technology use that helps to create a cocoon around individuals and makes impersonal communication styles easily accessible. These school leaders commented that higher education institutions are reviewing and revising their residential life programs to incorporate more structured opportunities for students to get involved in developing a school community through service, activities, and other projects. School officials believe that it is important to focus on developing community among students to not only validate the expense of residential life programs, but to give college graduates all of the skills beyond academic knowledge they will need to be successful in their careers.

In Pope Francis’ message on August 7, 2013, he asks the question, “Do you give alms?”  He goes on to say, “And when you give alms, do you look the person you are giving them to in the eye?” “Oh, I don’t know, I don’t really notice.” “Then you have not really encountered him.” . . . What Jesus teaches us first of all is to meet each other, and in meeting to offer each other help. We must know how to meet each other. We must build, create and construct a culture of encounter.

Saint Norbert conceived of a community of men and women, ordained religious and lay, whose members would live, work, and pray together. He was responding to the need in his time in the 12th century to reform the Catholic Church and return to fundamental values based on the life of Christ and his apostles. That Norbertine tradition helped establish the foundations for Archmere. “Community” is articulated as one of our five core values that we talk about at Archmere. It is difficult to define comprehensively, but we know it when we experience it. Whether it is an all-school assembly or a meeting between a student and a counselor, we sense the presence of community, in an environment of respect and acceptance that sustains and deepens the roots of authentic relationships. We must “encounter” one another, as Pope Francis says, in such a way that we truly care about them, and in working together, know how to develop programs and activities that benefit others, as higher education leaders suggest. In this Lenten season, when we pause to evaluate how we are living our faith, let us think about how our actions help create community. Let us also be grateful for the communities of family and friends we are blessed to have in our lives, and, in particular, the Archmere community that is strengthened by the many individual talents, sacrifices, successes and trials of students, parents, faculty, staff, alumni, parents of alumni, and friends.

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